Paul then makes his now rather familiar point by writing “Otherwise, if you are praising God with your spirit, how can someone without the gift say ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? For you are certainly giving thanks well, but the other person is not strengthened” (1 Corinthians 14:16-17). It returns to this. Paul wants to see the church strengthened through every activity that is said to be rooted in the gifting of the Spirit of the Creator God.
Paul wants every member (taking up and employing his language from chapter twelve) to be able to participate equally, on equal footing, with nobody feeling like a foreigner, with nobody marginalized as second-class spiritual citizens of the kingdom of the covenant God, and certainly nobody being held up or looked to as a superior within the body of the Christ simply because they engage in one or more particular activities that have been honorifically pre-designated by that body as gifts of the Spirit.
Time and again, Paul, as he deals with what is happening in this church body because of the glossolalia that is occurring there, refocuses his audience on the strengthening of the church (which can also be seen in his dealings with the problems at the church meal and the Lord’s Supper in chapter eleven). It is the strengthening of the entire body that should be the motivation and the result of speaking in tongues. If that motivation and result is not achieved, regardless of the gift under consideration (with this going beyond speaking in tongues), then it’s place in the assembly needs to be reconsidered and carefully examined. To circle back around to the issue of honor, it can easily be said that if one is concerned with accumulation of honor through the exercise of what are considered to be the gifts of the Spirit, then the strengthening of the church is probably not going to be in sight.
Bringing honor back into consideration at this point allows what comes next to dovetail quite nicely, as Paul writes “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you, but in the church I want to speak five words with my mind to instruct others, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue” (14:18-19). Paul knew that speaking in tongues would gain him honor, but this he did not seek, so he did not engage in this publicly, which his hearers would probably think quite odd. If there was no public display and no witnesses, then what would be the point? Paul did not want to limit his impact within the church to only those gifted with the ability to interpret or understand, thus contributing to a division and a spiritual hierarchy of elevation and exclusion (based on honor accumulation). If he spoke plainly in church, then no matter how much or how little he spoke, all could share equally in the instruction.